Keswick 10 Aspatria 5
By Allan Lambert
Knowing that a win would seal top spot in the Cumbria League and promotion to Level 6, Keswick 1st XV took the field at Davidson Park on Saturday against the only team that could, on paper, overtake them, Aspatria. In conditions that could only be described as bad, the rain teemed down all match and the wind grew in the second half to favour the visitors. Nevertheless, a vocal and appreciative crowd saw an exciting game in which neither side would admit defeat.
With an exchange referee in charge for this important game, Keswick kicked off and after brief attacks from both teams Keswick were awarded a penalty but failed to convert it. Aspatria put themselves under pressure from the 22 drop out by knocking forward for a Keswick scrum put in. Starting where they left off in the previous encounter before uncontested scrums were imposed, Keswick drove the Aspatria pack back to win a penalty which was kicked to the corner. From the line out Keswick mauled to the line but were held up and lost possession. However, from the 5 metre scrum they drove Aspatria back over the try line for Lewis Thompson to beat captain Aaron Thompson to the touch down for an unconverted try on 8 minutes, 5-0.
Aspatria attacked hard from the restart and in the Keswick 22 had a clear overlap when running the ball right but chose to cut inside where they gave away a penalty for not releasing, allowing Keswick to clear. On more than one occasion an Aspatria attack ended with a penalty but as the Keswick line out was misfiring the home relief was only temporary. Having to attack from deep within their half, Keswick made over 60 metres before losing possession and needing to defend again.
Winning possession at an Aspatria line out Keswick kicked through for a chase but were beaten to the ball for their own line out put-in, at which they again lost. However, winning another penalty they kicked to the left hand corner, only to lose possession yet again. Attacking once more, Keswick kept the ball tight with the forwards before releasing it along the backs where Ryan Weir evaded 3 tacklers to double the score to 10-0 on 32 minutes, the conversion missed.
Poor handling and unnecessary interference ended the next attacks by Aspatria as Keswick found themselves defending in their 22 where they managed to hold out and keep a clean sheet until half time.
With the second half the rain continued and the wind swung slightly to favour Aspatria, a fact they made good use of throughout the remainder of the game. An early attack by Keswick won a penalty 15 metres out and Keswick opted for a scrum only to be penalised for pushing early, relieving the pressure of which Aspatria took full advantage. Apart from this early attack Keswick spent most of the remainder of the game in their own half and a lot of that in the 22 as Aspatria used their larger forwards to punch holes around the fringes, a tactic that was proving very efficient and which tied in defenders.
When Keswick did win possession and kicked to clear they made little distance beyond the 22 and soon found themselves defending again as the Aspatria line out was working very well. Promising attacks ended as they either knocked forward or failed to release but despite that the pressure was relentless. When Keswick did make it to the half way line it was their turn to transgress and the penalty kick took Aspatria back to within 10 metres of the Keswick line. Unable to benefit, Aspatria lost the ball and after 20 minutes defending Keswick finally reached beyond the opposition 10 metre line, but this relief was short lived.
As the strain of constantly defending grew so did the penalty count against Keswick, generally for not rolling away or offside, but not to the extent that it became an issue for the referee, who was having an excellent game, keeping the play flowing and being very consistent. A change of tactics by Aspatria saw them run the ball through the backs and after running it from right to left and then back again, Jack Robinson evaded 3 tackles on the right to score an unconverted try in the corner for 10-5 with only 5 minutes left and the home supporters getting nervous.
Seeing the opportunity to turn the game, Aspatria attacked from the off, but were defeated again by poor handling, gifting possession to Keswick who kept the ball tight as the clock ran down. However, losing the ball forward in the tackle gave Aspatria another chance to attack and an attempted interception by Keswick was deemed a deliberate knock on and a yellow card took Keswick down to 14 men. Attacking again from their own half, Aspatria gave away a final penalty and a tap and kick to touch saw the game over.
Having started the day 15 points ahead at the top, Keswick are now 18 points clear with a maximum 15 still available, meaning they have won Cumbria League One and promotion to Level 6, an excellent achievement for team that only 3 seasons ago was playing at Level 8.
Meanwhile, the 2nd XV were hosting the team in second place in County Courier Services Division 2 North, Bolton. In equally poor conditions they found themselves 5-7 down, Paul Ireland unable to convert his own try, as the game entered its final stages. Danny Price, having crossed the line, headed for the posts to make the conversion attempt easier, but managed to drop the ball, so no score. However, good fortune smiled as they were awarded a penalty try to seal a 12-7 win.
Saturday sees the 1st XV away at Aspatria whilst the 2nd XV have no fixture. There is a double header on Saturday 16 March as both teams will be at home playing cup matches at Davidson Park. The 1st XV will be entertaining Upper Eden and the 2nd XV Tarleton, who are one place and 8 points above them in the League.